Why don't I like eating?
October 7, 2017 7:05 PM   Subscribe

I want to eat more but I feel like I have to force myself to eat most of the time. It feels like a chore. I've been keeping track of my calories and I get lucky if I even make it to 1200 calories a day.

I was a very, very picky eater growing up. My mom would force me to eat and would be incredibly overbearing about my eating habits. She would complain to all of her friends about how little I ate all the time. It was a constant battle between me and her all the time about food. Sometimes I would end up in tears. I got a lot of slack for being too thin.
I like food but for some reason I hate going through the process of eating. I will put off eating even when my stomach is giving me hunger pains. I'll start eating once I start gagging. I am currently not underweight and my bmi is fine for my height. I would like to gain weight and put on some muscle, but that's not possible until I get my eating habits under control.
How can I train myself to eat more?
posted by sheepishchiffon to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I need some clarification. What do you mean by the process of eating? Is it the preparation of meals and snacks that feels overwhelming? Or is the actual chewing of food the problem?
posted by xyzzy at 7:30 PM on October 7

Does it make any difference what you eat - smoothies vs cooked chicken vs raw veg?

When you say you like food, what aspects of food do you like?
posted by bunderful at 7:45 PM on October 7

I don't like chewing the food and I'm picky on texture. I actually like to cook, ironically enough.
posted by sheepishchiffon at 7:45 PM on October 7

How are you with food you don't have to chew, like soups and smoothies?
posted by aniola at 7:56 PM on October 7

Battles and public humiliation from your mom about food? Now you lose the desire to eat? Gagging? Any recent life changes? Did you just move out or any notable stressors popping up? Long story short, do you have a way to get evaluated for an eating disorder?

As for exercise, it has a way of creating a desire to eat because your body gets hungry. This is just biology, like thirst, and burning calories at the gym or wherever depletes your stores of nutrition due to it being one of the very purposes of exercise. So, if you have access to a gym, or you run, or otherwise have something you can do in this regard, try just doing it and your appetite might just fall into line a little bit.

Lastly, maybe consider what I call an "astronaut food" strategy: 20g or 30g protein bars, Ensure-type meal replacement beverages, beef jerky. Anything to maximize the per-chew nutritional benefits.
posted by rhizome at 7:58 PM on October 7 [2 favorites]

I'll eat almost anything if it's not too out there. Chicken, vegetables, and soup is fine. I like food, I just don't want to eat.
I've actually always been this way, it's just recently gotten worse.
posted by sheepishchiffon at 8:03 PM on October 7

I think that this could be disordered eating. Not in the anorexia/bulimia spectrum of disorders, but some of what you say is reminiscent of the things I heard in ED group from people with Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder. I am not suggesting you have that, but based on your comments about your mother and your current struggle with texture and mechanics I think it's safe to say that you have some emotional baggage around food and eating. I would strongly recommend seeing a professional to see if you have a diagnosable condition. A diagnosis (or lack of one) will inform your strategy for dealing with these issues.

In the meantime, you should try to eat calorie dense but healthy foods so that you get the most bang for your buck out of your meal times. (Nuts and nut butters, beans and bean spreads/dips, avocados, cheese, salmon, commercial or homemade smoothies, etc.)
posted by xyzzy at 8:22 PM on October 7 [19 favorites]

I mean, you don't have to enjoy eating to do it, just like you don't have to enjoy brushing your teeth or taking out the garbage. I believe this is what products like Soylent are for.

Or the complete opposite approach: how about the social aspect of food? Do you have any foodie-type friends nearby who you could go try new restaurants with? Maybe you could try getting really into a certain cuisine or food and develop your palate for, I dunno, stinky cheeses or hot peppers or something. Treat it like a project for personal cultural enrichment, the same way you might cultivate an appreciation for opera or ballet.
posted by btfreek at 8:26 PM on October 7

What about drinking some of your calories?
posted by raccoon409 at 8:35 PM on October 7

I don't have your difficulty and cannot comment personally, but I googled a bit and came up with this article.

Perhaps, to get by until you figure out how to learn to enjoy eating (if you want that) you should plan to eat the same thing every day, all nutrition including calories factored in of course, so that you will know what to expect when you put such and such food in your mouth. Maybe knowing what, say, a protein bar, will taste like in advance and exactly how many bites and swallows it takes to get it down would help you get the amount of calories you want.
posted by Crystal Fox at 9:22 PM on October 7 [2 favorites]

You sound like one of my SPD buddies who also has an eating disorder. SPD is sensory processing disorder, it can often show up in tandem with other neurodivergences and isn't very well understood in adults, but can be really useful as a starting point for figuring out effective therapies for getting to where you want to be on other issues.

Especially when you talk about your lifelong aversion to eating and how you like cooking and have a wide ranging palate, that points me to something going on at a level where you need to adapt the world around you to yourself, and not so much the other way around. Working with a therapist that specializes in ED could give you a lot of help even if you don't feel that diagnosis fits you.

My SPD/ED buddy has found success by giving herself a bunch of sensory distractions while she eats and also giving herself permission to eat in ways that are non-traditional. She also had a mother who abused her with regard to eating habits, but in a different way from what you describe, but working through her shame and expectations is an ongoing process that is really working for her. Sensory distractions can come in many forms. Often she watches tv while eating. She has problems with coordination sometimes so often makes foods that can be eaten one-handed with a spoon or fork, and then she can read a book or even play a game while eating. She sits in positions that aren't typical dining postures, like on the floor or in her computer chair with her legs on the desk. She sets alarms for eating smaller meals throughout the day which alerts her to put food in front of herself and then find a distraction so she eats without thinking about it - basically the opposite of what a nutritionist will tell you is good habits! And she "practices" chewing with chewable stim toys at home to help her get used to the action when she isn't pressured in public or feeling overwhelmed. All of these are things she has figured out will work for her through years of trial and error and therapy, but now she doesn't faint from hunger when standing up!
posted by Mizu at 9:41 PM on October 7 [17 favorites]

Why don't I like eating?

I can't tell if this is clear to you or not but it seems to me this is fairly simple in concept, and you told us why: it's because your mom reacted very badly to your eating behavior and magnified what was perhaps a minor quirk in to a big deal, that made you cry sometimes, and this unpleasantness aroundfood was a big feature of many of your most formative years.

That's why you have problems with eating. I'm not sure if meal hacks or therapy would be more helpful.

My humble suggestion is to really work yourself out, to the point of exhaustion. You said you want to build muscle right? If you dive in and use a lot of energy, your body's natural urges may become easier to obey and happily fulfill, compared to whatever is going on in your head now.
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:47 PM on October 7 [3 favorites]

I'm interested in your statement, "I like food, I just don't want to eat." Do you feel like it's an appetite issue, e.g. you're not hungry and/or you feel nauseated by food? Or do you feel inconvenienced by the fact that you have to eat? I can empathize with both scenarios. I'm on a medication that lowers my (already pretty modest) appetite, and sometimes it just doesn't occur to me to eat until I'm so hungry that I feel sick. Since I don't have a huge appetite, I'm also kind of a whiny baby about having to deal with the whole thing -- grocery shopping and/or procuring take-out, eating, putting away leftovers, etc. However, things have been going better for me lately, and here are some things that have helped:

- Within reason, I stick to an eating schedule. Breakfast at 7, a snack at 9:30, lunch at noon, a snack at 3:30, and dinner at 6. Yes, eating 5 times a day can feel like a huge chore. But, if I keep up with it, I don't let myself get to that "so hungry I'm gagging" place. I almost treat it like medication; I try not to miss a dose.

- I'm with raccoon409: drink your calories. My new thing is smoothies that taste like chocolate milkshakes. There's a place near my office that makes a chocolate/avocado/coconut milk smoothie, and a natural foods store near my house that makes a chocolate/peanut butter/banana smoothie. Both are full of good fat, protein, and TONS of calories. It takes me a few minutes to drink and keeps me full for hours.

- This might not be an issue for you, but it really helps me to be super permissive about food in general -- as long as I'm following my general 3 meal/2 snack rule, I can spend as much money as I want, and eat pretty much whatever I want. Sometimes this means eating take-out 3 or 4 nights a week. Sometimes it means that I go to the fancy, upscale grocery store because it's more fun to shop there than at the cheaper place. Sometimes it means that I eat nachos for dinner every night. If you already have food hangs-ups, you don't need to add more rules on top of it.

- I've definitely worked out some of my food issues in therapy, but honestly, the best thing I ever did for my food/appetite issues was to see a nutritionist. The one I saw actually had an office in a local hospital, but was part of my general clinic/insurance network. She was surprisingly good at helping me work through psychological issues related to food, and had GREAT ideas for meals, how to deal with low appetite, etc.

- Lastly, I've found that variety is very important to me. I used to try and save time/money by just eating the same thing all the time, but that's really no way to stimulate your appetite. So if you've been trying to choke down the same thing for the last few weeks/months, try switching it up a bit. You could even set a goal for yourself to try one new food a week or similar.
posted by leftover_scrabble_rack at 9:48 PM on October 7 [6 favorites]

This is super common with things like celiac and ulcers and post prandial hypotension. Basically- you feel crappy after you eat in some ill-defined way and therefore you eat as little or as seldom as possible. This was me for years, I just said I wasn't a big eater. Truth was eating a big meal makes me feel sick and if I'm busy I just will put off eating as long as possible to avoid the inevitable crash afterwards. But the crash happened in such a variable/ diffuse way it wasn't clear even to me what was going on for years. Women especially sometimes experience pain as a feeling of being antsy or uncomfortable or avoidance or so I've been told. Dudes tend to be more like "that hurts, I'm not doing it".
posted by fshgrl at 12:25 AM on October 8 [3 favorites]

Nthing this could be a medical issue. If you were a kid today, you would have sensory issues around eating. Instead of being made to eat, a therapist would help you feel more comfortable with eating. Maybe the texure of foods is unpleasant or somethinf with your tongue? Maybe a doctor who sees all ages if patients could hook you up with one of these therapists. It doesn't seem like hunger is your issue.
posted by Kalmya at 4:42 AM on October 8

Do you like pureed soups or other foods you don't have to chew?
posted by amtho at 5:10 AM on October 8

Longshot, but, were you by any chance a preemie, or did you go through a period of serious illness during infancy? The reason I ask is that we know now (but didn't really know a few decades ago) that babies that don't feed by mouth (such as preemies and other babies will serious conditions that make doing so unsafe) can develop aversions to eating that last years without intervention. There was a great article about it in the NYTM last year.

If any of this rings true for you, as far as I know there aren't any centers doing these kinds of interventions with adults, but you might benefit from using some of their techniques or at least having more of an appreciation for why it sounds like you've had a lifelong aversion to feeding.
posted by telegraph at 5:45 AM on October 8 [1 favorite]

I have this too although I also don't like to prepare food. I even have a physical reaction to words related to food, like "nutritious" or "sous vide." When I was younger I'd go several days without eating hardly anything except maybe plain pasta.

Things that have helped:

1. figuring out I was lactose intolerant and that's why I felt like shit after eating
2. like people said above, eating foods with high ROI like nuts, avocados, etc
3. eating while watching TV or otherwise distracted
4. not counting calories, I would cry when I couldn't make it to my goal
5. always having snack food around and telling myself I only have to eat at least one bite whenever I feel hungry
6. buying good quality food so I'm never choking down something I don't like in the first place just to save a few pennies

I agree that you will start being hungrier once you start training and you will quickly learn to eat so you don't pass out. Protein shakes are your friend here. Find a personal trainer who does not shame you for your weight or lecture you about eating habits. You can be very clear about this upfront with them. If you want to build muscle, avoid lots of cardio because you'll lose weight and defeat the purpose.
posted by AFABulous at 8:35 AM on October 8 [1 favorite]

When I was younger I'd go several days without eating hardly anything except maybe plain pasta.

To clarify, I don't mean "when I was a child." This was when I was 30.
posted by AFABulous at 8:41 AM on October 8

I am not any kind of eating specialist, but yeah, I think there's an underlying sensitivity, a physiological quirk, and then your mother added on many layers of emotional trauma on top of whatever else you are dealing with. Please be kind to yourself. If shopping is traumatic, then at least get snacks delivered.

You get my sympathy because while I don't have eating blocks now, I had an enormous cooking block all summer long. My reaction was always "ick!".
posted by puddledork at 11:57 AM on October 8

I'm wondering if there were any "rules" that your mom gave you about food that you are unconsciously trying to abide by now? And those rules are making eating too complicated/difficult/distasteful?

For example:

Your mom always insisted that you eat your vegetables, and you really hate vegetables, but now you always try to include them when you eat, and that's just too overwhelming - but if you don't include them you feel guilty.

Your mom guilted you for wanting to eat food that tasted good, and insisted you be grateful for whatever you got - so now you feel guilty about choosing tasty options.

Your mom insisted that everything you eat was inexpensive, so now you will only buy yourself cheap food.

Your mom taught you that you have to cook your own food, so you are trying to make everything from scratch and it's too much work.

Basically I'm wondering if instead of disliking eating perhaps there is some element of eating that you were taught was essential, and trying to always meet that criteria is what's causing you the trouble. So if, say, you were taught that you HAVE to cook your own food, maybe realizing that you can absolutely buy pre-packaged food 100% of the time would be freeing?

At any rate, I'm sorry you're going through this, and I'm sorry you experienced your mom treating you like that. No wonder eating is tough.
posted by quiet_musings at 8:05 PM on October 8 [4 favorites]

Are you still taking meds for ADD? They're notorious for affecting appetite/eating patterns.
posted by dancinglamb at 12:53 AM on October 9 [1 favorite]

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